Category Archives: plant foods

yummy vegetarian dishes

A Brief Break From Tea

Sick of tea yet? A little? I’m not, but I made something reeeally good for dinner last night and thought the internet might be interested!

I saw a yummy-looking dish over at the kitchn, and decided that before the Meyer lemons disappeared for the rest of the year I’d have to make it. So I bookmarked it, and thought of it any time I had some lemons or passed the mascarpone in the store. But only a little…and every time I thought of it, my brain changed it, like a game of telephone.

Hello, food. I miss you.

Hello, food. I miss you.

And what was once Meyer lemon, mascarpone, spinach, hazelnuts and spaghetti turned into Meyer lemon, mascarpone, spinach, fresh basil, chickpeas and fresh homemade pasta.

Those are some fat noodles!

Those are some fat noodles!

I haven’t made pasta before, aside from the last Daring Bakers Challenge, but really wanted to practice making it some more. I originally intended to make fettuccine, but since I don’t have a pasta machine I did everything by hand and couldn’t get the dough thin enough. In fact, I’m going to mix the dough in my Kitchenaid the next time I make pasta. I don’t have the height or the strength to knead pasta dough as well as I’d like.

Even though the pasta took some effort, I think this was worth it, and letting the dough rest every once in a while over the afternoon helped a lot. Then all I had to do was zest and juice the lemon and cook everything up together!

Homemade Noodles with Meyer Lemon and Mascarpone

Giant flakes of shaved parmesan are optional, but extra-good if you like things extra-cheesy.

Giant flakes of shaved parmesan are optional, but extra-good if you like things extra-cheesy.

First, Make the Noodles:

2 cups flour

2 eggs

Pinch of salt

Up to 1/4 cup lukewarm water

Sift the flour onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and salt. Using clean hands, combine the eggs and flour, making sure not to let the eggs escape. Do your best to knead the ingredients into a cohesive dough, and dribble a few drops of water onto the dough as needed to help the dough form. Continue kneading until you have a smooth ball of dough. OR, do this in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Allow the dough to rest, lightly covered with plastic wrap for 1-3 hours. Divide dough into fourths. Use a rolling pin (preferably a pastry roller) to roll the pasta dough out as thin as possible, allowing it to rest for 10 minutes at a time if it becomes uncooperative. Or roll out in a pasta machine. If not using a pasta machine, cut into thin noodles with a long, sharp knife. Lay noodles out flat on the work surface, or hang, until dry.

Then, Put it All Together!:

Zest & juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Small handful of fresh basil

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

Dried handmade pasta

1 cup cooked (or drained canned) chickpeas

5-6 oz. fresh baby spinach, washed & dried

Ground nutmeg, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Freshly shaved parmesan, if desired

Set a medium-large pot of salted water on to boil. Combine lemon, basil and cheese in a small bowl and mix well. Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until cooked through but still firm. Set aside about 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot over low-medium heat and add the lemon-mascarpone mixture and chickpeas, then add the spinach a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Once the spinach is wilted, season with nutmeg and pepper, sprinkle with shaved parmesan and serve immediately.

I would definitely make this again, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes pasta, lemon, cheese, basil…basically everything awesome. You could use a different bean or a nut in place of the chickpeas (pine nuts would be yummy, or pistachios…ooh or cannellinis) but I’d probably use the chickpeas again because they are truly the greatest beans.

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna: Daring Bakers March 2009

I was wondering what kind of challenge we’d be thrown this month for Daring Bakers. Last month was easy as they come, and I was cringing in anticipation of some ridiculously complicated, week-long project. Luckily it didn’t take me a week, just an afternoon/evening. It wasn’t particularly easy and it was a crazy day overall, but I was able to make it. And it was soooo delicious.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Oh lasagna, how I've missed you.

Oh lasagna, how I've missed you.

I’d been reading from the first few people to complete the challenge that this made quite a bit of food. I have memories of my mom making lasagnas (typical American style with noodles, marinara and mozzarella…maybe a little spinach if I remembered to ask in advance) and the gigantic pan of leftovers being kept in the garage during the winter so they’d keep. So what do you do when you know you’ll be making entirely too much food?

You can clearly see the layers...yeah, my noodles are a little thick.

You can clearly see the layers...yeah, my noodles are a little thick.

You throw a lasagna party!

All right, it wasn’t a huge party…just two other people…but it was still a lasagna-filled good time. Even if I was in the kitchen for 6-8 hours. Not counting the late-night cleaning bender I went on before bed.

Seriously, I could go on about lasagna FOREVER. I love this stuff.

Seriously, I could go on about lasagna FOREVER. I love this stuff.

I thought about tweaking the recipe more than I did. Ultimately, though, the only thing I ended up changing was the meat ragu called for. Not only do I not eat meat, but that recipe also required the use of several different kinds of meat…I can fry great bacon and sear the perfect steak no problem, but I’m not prepared to mess with things like veal. Not to mention the price of that much meat. I just don’t know meat.

I decided to substitute a mushroom ragu instead, and found a recipe by Mario Batali that worked perfectly. I don’t know much about Chef Batali, but I figured he has to know what he’s doing, at least when it comes to Italian-ish stuff. And, obviously, the sauce was awesome. Fresh thyme = sooooo good.

There's those layers again. Did I mention this lasagna undid a month's worth of working out? IN ONE NIGHT.

There's those layers again. Did I mention this lasagna undid a month's worth of working out? IN ONE NIGHT.

I also had some trouble with the noodles. No problem rolling – I have an old (like, vintage, my grandmother owned it) pastry rolling pin and I love rolling things out, as long as it can be done somewhat haphazardly. But I couldn’t initially get the dough to come together. At. All. I ended up adding three extra eggs. I know. But I was freaking out…our friends were coming soon, I was trying to throw together sauces, get a loaf of bread in the oven, and the dough wasn’t a dough!

Luckily, I have an awesome boyfriend who has a neat little hobby – sculpting. With Sculpey. Which involves a lot of kneading to get to the right consistency. So I got my nice little green ball of dough!

And yeah, I did basically end up with spinach-y egg noodles since I added the extra eggs. But egg noodles are good, and chewy, and hey, they help replace the protein missing from the meat exclusion. Right?

At least lasagna freezes perfectly and I can enjoy a gooey little piece of lasagna goodness anytime...until it's gone. :(

Lasagna freezes perfectly and now I can enjoy a gooey little piece of lasagna goodness anytime...until it's gone. :(

A few tips:

Go easy on the bechamel when you’re putting the lasagna together. I noticed some other Bakers claimed to be short on the bechamel. Just remember that you’re also putting some cheese in all the layers, and dot it on as opposed to pouring or spreading it. I ended up with the perfect amount of everything. I also used a little tub of pre-grated parmesan. While I do have a wedge in the fridge for grating, I decided it would be worth the time and money saved on a tub of decent quality cheese.

Don’t panic if your noodles won’t roll out thin enough at first. Let them rest a few minutes and roll again. I was able to double the amount of noodles I had by doing this and they were still plenty thick.

Find someone who knows how to knead Sculpey or has made pasta before to bring your dough together. Seriously. I will totally make pasta again (recently found out my mom used to make it a lot but I was too young to remember; a request has been submitted for her to “teach me [her] noodly ways”) so I’ll learn it eventually but I was seriously freaking out. I guess I would have been more relaxed if I hadn’t invited people over.

Oh yeah, definitely invite people over. It’s great for sharing. Bake some bread for everyone to munch on while you finish up the lasagna. Cue up one of the greatest movies ever to watch while everyone eats. And make sure to save room for dessert.

The recipe below is what I did. It’s good – the noodles are chewier with the extra eggs but it went well with the overall flavor of the dish. The original recipe called for only two eggs in the noodles. If you can manage to squeeze the moisture needed to bring the noodles together from the spinach, don’t add all the eggs. Or add some water. Or do what I did anyway.

…This also assumes that you’ll be making this all at once. At the end I’ll provide notes for preparing things in advance.

Vegetarian Lasagna with Homemade Spinach Egg Noodles

Extra sauce is just for show. I didn't even eat this piece...well, not that day, anyway.

Extra sauce is just for show. I didn't even eat this piece...well, not that day, anyway.

First, Make the Dough:

2-5 eggs

10 oz. finely chopped fresh spinach

3 1/2 cups AP flour

Mount the flour in the center of a clean work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the (first two) eggs and spinach. Using a wooden spoon, beat the eggs and spinach together, then gradually incorporate the flour a little at a time, taking care to not let the “walls” of the flour mound collapse until you don’t have any liquid left that could potentially escape. If it’s too dry, add more eggs or some water. Knead it all together like clay until it forms a cohesive but shaggy dough. Knead until it’s elastic and sticky. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Remove any dry bits of dough from your work surface and continue to knead until the dough is satiny smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Form it into a ball, wrap in plastic and allow to rest anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Now, Make the Sauces:

Mushroom Ragu

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Medium onion, cut in 1/4″ pieces

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme

1/2 finely grated medium carrot

28 oz. canned tomatoes

Pinch of coarse salt

In a 3 qt. saucepan or large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft and golden brown, about 8-10 minutes, then add the thyme and carrot. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot is soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice and crush them with your spoon. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until thickened (about 1o minutes). Season with salt. If you don’t like chunks in your sauce, allow to cool slightly, then run the whole thing through the blender for a bit until desired consistency is achieved. Set aside.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

12 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped (I used half button, half baby bella)

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup tomato sauce, or more if desired

1 Tbsp butter

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a saucepan or large pot, heat the oil over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the juices are released and evaporate, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, tomato sauce and butter, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or so, or until somewhat thickened. Set aside.

Now Make the Bechamel:

4 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp flour

2 2/3 cups milk

Salt, pepper & nutmeg to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sift in the flour and whisk until smooth. Continue stirring 3-4 minutes, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a slow simmer, stirring for 3-5 minutes until thick. Season to taste and set aside.

To Cook the Noodles:

Divide the dough into fourths and remove one piece, keeping the rest of the dough wrapped until ready to roll out. Lightly flour your work surface and shape the quarter of dough into a ball, then flatten it into a circle. Roll it out evenly, turning by fourths as you go. Once it’s thin, allow it to rest for a few minutes, then stretch the dough by rolling one edge onto your rolling pin and pulling gently. Alternate rolling and pulling the dough until translucent, then cut into approximately 4×8″ rectangles. If you’re going to be finishing the recipe at a later time, you can hang the noodles to dry them and store them in a sealed airtight container or bag. If you’re going to be continuing with the recipe immediately, continue to the next step.

Prepare a large pot of boiling salted water, an ice water bath, and a place to set the noodles after cooking (a large plate with paper towels on it to soak up excess water is fine). Boil 4 noodles at a time for 2 minutes. Immediately place into ice water bath to stop cooking and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the noodles until all are cooked.

Assembling the Lasagna:

Spinach Noodles

Mushroom Ragu

Bechamel

4.5 oz. shredded parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter a 3 qt. baking dish. Reheat your sauces if they’ve gotten cold or have been made a while in advance – you want them warm, but not hot. Drizzle a thin layer of bechamel and spread it around a bit. Arrange a layer of noodles in the pan, then spread with thin layers of each sauce, plus a few extra dollops of bechamel and a sprinkling of parmesan. Add another layer of noodles and repeat until all the ingredients are used, finishing with a thick layer of parmesan on top. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes. The cheese on top should be just golden but not browned. Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and let the lasagna rest 10 minutes before serving.

If you’re going to be making the noodles a day or so ahead, hang them to dry after rolling them out. Store them in an airtight container or bag until ready to use. Boil for 4 minutes instead of 2. You can also assemble the lasagna beforehand and freeze it before baking. You’d need to bake it for a bit longer or just defrost it beforehand.

The original recipe also said that the lasagna would likely slide apart when cut, but I barely had any problems. It won’t taste any different but it will look nicer to have a neat, even square on the plate.

I was not expecting a savory challenge this month, but I really enjoyed it. I’ve been wanting to try making my own pasta for a while but just didn’t have a reason. This recipe was definitely worth the effort, though I don’t know if I’d do this exact recipe again unless I had a specific request. Lasagna just isn’t something I can eat more than once in a very long while. I’m excited to find out what next month will bring…and who I’ll be sharing it with!

Quince Love!

I know quinces are not quite in season anymore, but they still had some at Whole Foods when I went down there last week and I had to load up on as many non-bruised ones as I could. That turned out to be an underwhelming four, but that’s plenty to experiment with!

Too bad the internet doesn't have smellovision.

Too bad the internet doesn't have smellovision.

I decided to try making quince jelly, as I needed something to fill some leftover vegan pastry dough (explanation pending…wait a month or so). I’d seen people make homemade pop tarts so I decided to try that out. What better filling than fragrant, super-sweet quince jelly?

Don't worry quince, you won't end up as jelly! No, I was thinking of trying membrillo with YOU.

Don't worry quince, you won't end up as jelly! No, I was thinking of trying membrillo with YOU.

I know quinces are pretty much made of pectin (and magic), so I wanted a recipe that didn’t include any extra (pectin, that is…I’m not sure where I’d buy extra magic). I also just wanted to be able to scale it to however many quinces I had, not some random, huge weight. I found a really easy one and started chopping.

So fuzzy and friendly!

So fuzzy and friendly!

My jelly actually turned out a bit runnier than I’d like, but it was hard to tell while I was actually cooking it and also it was time for LOST. And I don’t miss LOST for anything. I need to work on my jelly/marmalade timing I guess. I cooked for as long as I should have (and a little longer) and figured it might set up a bit more once chilled. It did, but not all the way through.

Don't get excited. I have puff pastry issues.

Don't get excited. I have puff pastry issues.

The puff pastry I made, while a little too salty for me (it’s the margarine…I’m used to good old unsalted butter now) was good.  I kind of suck at rolling things out to the correct size so there were a couple extra folds in there, just to make the proportions a bit less ridiculous. Additionally, I’m apparently awful at crimping closed puff pastry.

Sure, the corner LOOKS nice and golden, but that's really just caramelized jelly.

Sure, the corner LOOKS nice and golden, but that's really just caramelized jelly.

Maybe you’re not supposed to be able to crimp puff pastry closed? You have to remember that I have no idea what I’m doing here for the most part. The schooling won’t happen for a while still. I’m just kind of doing whatever in the kitchen most days. Aaaanyway, between my crappy crimping skills and the runny jelly, I ended up with a pan full of caramelized jelly and very empty, sad crusts. I had to switch pans halfway through before everything burned horribly from the sugar leaking out all over the place, and then ended up just serving the pop tarts with a bunch of jelly drizzled over the top. On top of that, the jelly is so sweet that it was hard to eat a whole pop tart (also the salty pastry, which apparently isn’t that bad since Z ate all of his and didn’t think the pastry was too salty at all).

At least the pastry was hella flaky.

At least the pastry was flaky.

I would definitely make the jelly again. Hopefully in huge quantities this fall, and maybe with some other flavors infused in there, too.

My parents are going to be adding fruit trees to their garden and I immediately suggested a quince tree. It’s one of the few fruits that will grow well up here. Also I wouldn’t have to look so hard to find the damn things.

Quince Jelly

I would love to find a quince perfume. Yum.

That jar will remain sealed until I can't stand it anymore.

Quinces

Water

Sugar

Meyer lemons (about one small for every three quinces…regular lemons might be ok, too, but meyer lemons are more floral and way more complimentary to the quince fragrance)

Rub/rinse the fuzz from your quinces. Chop roughly and place in a saucepan (or large pot, depending on how many quinces you’re using). Don’t peel or core them. Add just enough water to cover (add more while cooking if the water reduces enough), set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to gently boil for about an hour. You want the quince pieces to be softened and somewhat tender. Prepare a jelly bag (I used cheesecloth and some string), set it over a large bowl and pour the contents of your pan or pot through the bag. The majority of the liquid should flow through to the bowl and the fruit and seeds should be contained in the bag. Tie the bag up tightly over the bowl somewhere it won’t be disturbed and let it sit for 6 hours, or overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag! Once the six hours have elapsed, measure the liquid in the bowl and move it to a large pot. Add an equal amount of sugar and the lemon juice. Stir to combine everything and boil over high heat. Continue to boil for 30-40 minutes, skimming off any grayish foam that rises to the top. Test the jelly by plopping small bits of it onto a plate and waiting for it to cool. If it’s still liquidy, it’s not ready, but if it sets into a jelly-ish blob then it’s ready. Once done, immediately pour the jelly into hot, sterile jars and seal. If you’re doing large batches you should go through all that fun canning bath stuff. I only used two quinces and ended up with one and a half small jars, so there was no need to further sterilize the jars – I’m keeping them in the fridge anyway and they’re definitely sealed. Once the jars are somewhat cool you can move them to the fridge, if desired.

I know lots of people say that they’d love to wear the fragrance of quinces if they could. I decided to check and see if Demeter made a quince perfume – and they do! I think I might order some; I used to rotate between their peach, lilac and thunderstorm scents and I absolutely love the realism of everything they make. The only drawback is that they make so many wonderful scents I tend to get overwhelmed, can’t make up my mind, and end up ordering nothing. Not this time, though.

Crepe Wednesday, Anyone?

I really wanted to post this yesterday, a.k.a. Pancake Day, a.k.a. Fat Tuesday, a.k.a. Mardi Gras.  But, unfortunately for me, I live in Maine, and we got hit with a big, stupid storm on Sunday night (that absolutely NO ONE seemed to see coming) and had our power knocked out from then until early this afternoon.  Out of over 150,000 people to lose power, we were among the last 20,000 to get it back.  Apparently the line crews were out on snowmobiles and with snowshoes.

Those strawberries were GOOD. Talk about a taste of summer in the middle of winter!

Those strawberries were GOOD. Talk about a taste of summer in the middle of winter!

Luckily for me, we have a gas stove, so I was still able to make my crepes on Monday.  I figured crepes are an older, more traditional recipe than pancakes, and since Z wanted some kind of fruit and cream as topping instead of butter and syrup, crepes were a better fit.  We picked up some wonderfully ripe strawberries and kiwis at the store on Saturday and decided to use those, along with some homemade vanilla sugar whipped cream.  Do you have any idea how much cheaper it is to make your own whipped cream than to buy it in a pressurized can? About a third as cheap!  And you need less since whipping cream is so rich.

That is one golden plantain. Yum!

That is one golden plantain. Yum!

We had a few leftover on Tuesday and I decided to warm them in the oven, which made them crispy and toasty – perfect for wrapping around yummy, slightly-caramelized plantains.  I prepared the plantains the way I normally would: Sliced the long way, pan-fried in oil (canola or safflower, so it doesn’t smoke) and dusted with lots of cinnamon.  I topped everything off with some powdered sugar and they were wonderful.  The toasting and longer filling made them easy to pick up and eat sans forks (which were all dirty by that time anyway, and I couldn’t clean the kitchen since we have a well, which doesn’t work when the power is out).

One thing I was concerned about, being someone who finds 99% of her recipes via Google, was how was I going to access the recipe I’d bookmarked?  Hmmm…Then I remembered that I own a copy of The Joy Of Cooking, and all was well again.  I actually read the majority of the book over Monday and Tuesday, skipping the sections about skinning bunnies and butchering turtles.  For the record, I have absolutely no interest in turtle soup, mock or otherwise (so THAT’S why the Mock Turtle in my copy of Alice in Wonderland has a calf’s head…nasty).  Seriously, though, I’m so glad I bought this book.  My absolute favorite passage is a list of suggested additions and garnishes to homemade ice cream recipe, which includes such awesome items as preserved chopped ginger with some of the preserving syrup; crushed chocolate molasses chips (what are those and where can I find them?); crushed macarons plus sherry or liqueur; Polvo de Amor (homemade shredded coconut with a kickass name); candied violets (yes PLEASE); chopped candied citrus peel; crystallized angelica, cut in tiny fancy shapes (it actually says that and makes me giggle inside just typing it); decorettes (what are thooooose?); marzipan fruits; and Sweet Sauces.  Mmm, Sweet Sauces…

Crepes (adapted from The Joy Of Cooking)

Lacy lacy crepe!

Lacy lacy crepe!

3/4 cup AP flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp double-acting baking powder

2 Tbsp powdered sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

1/3 cup water

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together the dry ingredients (I whisked and there were still bigger lumps than I would have liked, so definitely sift).  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add in the rest of the ingredients and beat well.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ones, combining with a few swift strokes, ignoring any small lumps.  Place a medium skillet (non-stick is fine) over medium heat and grease it with a few drops of oil.  Add a small amount of batter (1/8-1/4 cup) to the pan and tilt the pan around to allow the batter to spread out as much as possible.  When the crepe is lightly browned underneath and easy to lift, flip it and cook until the other side is browned as well (the first one probably won’t turn out well, which is normal).  Once both sides are evenly cooked, remove from pan.  Add a little more oil for each crepe.  If you use a bit too much oil it’s ok, you’ll just have crispier edges.

So goldeny!

So goldeny!

To serve with strawberries, kiwi and vanilla sugar cream, slice berries and kiwis and alternate in a line across the bottom of each crepe.  Roll from the bottom up.  Grind a tablespoon or so of vanilla sugar with mortar & pestle (or grind in a food processor) to make fine sugar.  Whip 1/2 cup or so whipping cream to soft peaks and add sugar.  Whip to stiff peaks and dollop onto crepes.  Garnish with extra fruit slices and sprinkle with a little extra vanilla sugar.

To serve toasted with plantains, peel and cut in half, then slice in 1/4 inch thick planks.  Heat a few tablespoons of canola or safflower oil in a skillet or other shallow pan.  Fry plantains in two batches, turning once to get both sides evenly golden and caramelized around the edges.  Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and toss in ground cinnamon to coat.  Meanwhile reheat cooled crepes in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes, until warm and crispy.  Remove crepes from oven and lightly butter one side, then lay out plantain slices across the bottom of each crepe and roll from the bottom up.  Dust powdered sugar over the crepe and garnish each with a small piece of plantain.

Eating Sunshine for Breakfast

This is just a quick post about my first adventures in jam/jelly/preserves-making.  It’s not something I’m going to be getting into regularly, as the threat of botulism is a scary one, but this recipe is safe and easy.

It's not actually meant to be that dark...oops.

It's not actually meant to be that dark...oops.

I did manage to screw it up, despite it being easy.  In my determination to get it to the right temperature I overcooked it quite a bit, and once it was in a jar and chilled it was like cement.  Not remotely spreadable.

So sweet and sticky...yum.

So sweet and sticky. Yum!

When I had some time, I stuck the open jar in a pan of boiling water to loosen it, then reboiled the marmalade with some water and transferred it to a new (clean) jar.  Much better!

So what kind of marmalade is it?

So what kind of marmalade is it?

I made this marmalade with meyer lemons and vanilla bean.  The recipe is here, and I encourage anyone who can get their hands on the ingredients to try it.  Just don’t boil it for an extra 15 minutes in an effort to get it to just the right temperature.

The flavor was only slightly affected by the over-boiling…a little more “caramelized” than it should probably taste, and definitely a little darker in color than it should be.  But it’s really tasty anyway and I’m definitely enjoying it!

I Love Risotto

Apologies if this is a little disjointed…meandering…non-linear…et cetera.  I am sitting down to some of the most delicious leftovers ever after three or four hours of intense kitchen activity.  Between the baking and the poaching, the skin on my face is tight and fresh (from all the steam).  The poaching isn’t quite finished – that’s the reason for any train of thought derailment.

…And I’m back.  Well, I’ve finished dinner, gotten Z set up with some nachos, and am relaxing for a minute with a cupcake!  Mmm, ginger buttercream.

Anyway, I’m trying to take advantage of more seasonal ingredients.  Exploring citrus and stuff.  But one thing I know I don’t eat enough of is winter squash.  I’m not picky, I like pretty much every squash equally…I just never think to buy them for some reason.  Winter squashes can be a lot of trouble…hard to cut…hard to cook, too.  But an acorn squash struck my fancy at the grocery store the other night (plus it was on sale) and I decided to use it somehow.

I wasn’t sure how to do that until a few days later, when I was contemplating what other uses I might have for the Chardonnay I had bought for making cupcakes.  I had used a pinot noir for a mushroom risotto, so the bright, flavorful Chardonnay might work well with a sweet, tender acorn squash.  I googled the combination, tentatively with risotto, and found some recipes to encourage myself.

Work it, sage.

Work it, sage.

I mentioned previously that I had a problem with some stupid rosemary packaging, so this is a second try.  I’m glad it was, because when I was cooking the original batch (before everything was drowning in rosemary), I found myself wishing I had some sage to add.  I wanted to season the heck out of this stuff, so I picked up a bunch of fresh sage at the store the other day.  I didn’t need such a large bunch, but there weren’t any smaller ones.  I figured since I had the sage, I’d try frying some…I don’t remember where I heard of doing that, but it sounded like a great idea!

Fried sage is…interesting.  I’d try it again, but perhaps with a sauce or dip or something for them, like sage chips.  I’ll have to play with that idea.  Basically, all you do to make them is clean and dry a few leaves while you heat some oil (I used safflower…smoke points and everything) in a deepish frying pan.  Rub some flour onto the sage and drop them in, poking them down a bit so they are submerged.  Allow them to fry for at least 30 seconds…they will be bright green.  Remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towels and lightly absorb extra oil.  I might try salting them next time.

It's like a bee-ootiful flower.

It's like a bee-ootiful flower.

I made half of the recipe written here (not sure if I’d have enough wine for the cupcakes if I used a whole cup in this…then I ended up with more).  It’s very filling and flavorful, and really moreso the next day.  Perfect with a generous sprinkling of fresh grated parmesan.

…And yes, I was thinking of Simon and Garfunkel when I was rooting around in the spice cabinet for things that smelled nice together.  But the risotto is so well seasoned and delicious that I don’t mind admitting where I got the idea.

Acorn Squash Risotto

There was way too much food here.

There was way too much food here.

1 small-medium onion (depending on how much you like them), diced

1 acorn squash, peeled, seeds removed and chopped into 1″ or less chunks

1 cup Chardonnay

2 cups arborio rice

6-8 cups stock or broth (I used vegetarian buillon, because I’m lazy and don’t make my own)

4-5 large sage leaves, cleaned and dried

1/4 tsp dried crushed parsley

1/4 tsp dried crushed rosemary

1/4 tsp dried crushed thyme

1/2-1/3 cup frozen (or fresh) peas

Salt & pepper, to taste

Parmesan cheese

Fried sage leaves, if desired (I fried mine up while the risotto was resting)

Heat some oil or butter (depending on your tastes) in a large stockpot over medium-high heat and add onion and squash.  Saute for a few minutes, until the onion is translucent.  Add the rice and stir constantly for a minute or two, then add the wine and sage and continue to stir until the wine is mostly absorbed.  Add the stock or broth in cups, stirring constantly and adding more when the liquid is absorbed.  Once you’re down to your last couple cups of stock/broth, add the remaining herbs and the peas.  Continue stirring and adding broth until the rice is tender but still somewhat firm.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for a few minutes.  Remove the sage leaves and serve with grated Parmesan and a garnish of fried sage leaves, if desired.

I considered this dish to be a pretty big step towards my getting over my issues with onions.  As long as they’re cooked I don’t really have much to fear, even if they are chopped a bit roughly.  Which they were this time.  Because they were stinging my eyes and I was hungry.

I definitely recommend this dish.  It would make a great accompaniment to a roasted chicken, maybe, if you’re not a tiny vegetarian like me.  It is at least ten times better the next day, too…the flavors definitely develop.

As for the fried sage leaves…you’ll probably see them again sometime.

Why the House Smells Like a Pizzeria, Part II

I had a sad little sweet red pepper wrinkling away in the vegetable drawer, and recently unearthed my blender, so I decided to try making some red pepper sauce to have with pasta.

I don't think I ever eat pasta without broccoli...this pasta even LOOKS like broccoli!

I don't think I ever eat pasta without broccoli...this pasta even LOOKS like broccoli!

However, I ended up making this on the same day that I baked the bread.  Therefore, it smelled like there was a pizzeria downstairs.  I didn’t mind…

If I had had more time, I would have liked to have cooked the sauce a little more.  It was a little thin.  And very sweet!  I would have liked to have had fresh basil…The whole thing was pretty improvised.  One thing I was lucky to have, however, was a stash of pine nuts.  Mmm, pine nuts!  They complimented the sweetness and I just love their texture.  Do not substitute another nut for pine nuts.  You can’t.  Just buy them from the little bulk bins at the grocery store and use them sparingly.

So this recipe definitely needs some tweaking.  Here’s a rundown of what I would do next time:

- Probably add more salt.

- Use fresh basil.

- I need to get me some extra virgin olive oil – all I have is light since I usually use it for baking and sauteing.

- Try cooking it for longer.

This was also just enough for a filling dinner for myself.  Just use one pepper for each serving you need to make and scale the rest of the ingredients up, to taste.

Pasta & Broccoli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (for one)

Hello, food!

Hello, food!

1 sweet red bell pepper, halved, with the innards and stems removed

1 small head broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/8 box of campanelle pasta (you could use another kind if they’re short, but Barilla makes these and they’re my favorite!)

1 tsp good olive oil, plus extra (doesn’t have to be as good) for cooking broccoli

1/4-1/2 tsp salt (I used fine sea salt), plus more for pasta & broccoli

A couple of dashes of pepper, for sauce and broccoli

Dried or fresh oregano & basil, to taste (if fresh, cut the basil in fine ribbons and add right before serving)

1 Tbsp pine nuts

Sprinkling of shaved parmesan

Move a rack in the oven as high as you can and set the oven to the highest setting, and allow to preheat.  Place the peppers skin-side up in a baking pan and place in oven (you know, on that rack we put all up in there).  Roast for a few minutes, until the skin is visibly blistering away from the flesh of the peppers.  Remove the peppers from the oven and allow to cool for a minute, then carefully remove the skin with your fingers and place the pepper flesh in the blender.  Add the olive oil and blend until it’s saucy…as chunky or smooth as you like.  Transfer to a saucepan and add seasonings, then simmer it while you prepare everything else…or longer if you want.  Boil the water for the pasta; once you add the pasta and salt, begin sauteing the broccoli in the oil and seasonings.  Don’t worry if your broccoli gets singed in spots…it will be more delicious.  Once your pasta and broccoli are done, transfer them to a plate (or bowl).  Add sauce, pine nuts and parmesan.  Eat your colorful food!

This isn’t exactly a seasonal dish, now that I think about it.  I’ll wait until spring or summer to try again…better ingredients make better food.

I need to get to work on my Iron Cupcake submissions (there was a wine-opening disaster, resulting in the need for more wine and a corkscrew, which I love!), and I have some other things I want to try out.  I have to get to the store and probably the post office to get started on most projects, though…arg.  Winter.

Why the House Smells Like a Pizzeria, Part I

I swear, every time I open the door…it smells EXACTLY like the downstairs should be full of delicious brick oven-baked pizzas.  Alas, it is not…but I do have this!

It was audibly crackling for like two minutes after I took it out to cool.

It was audibly crackling for like two minutes after I took it out to cool.

I figured I had no reason at all to not try to make my own bread.  I definitely have the time for homemade bread!  I’d only ever made bread with a bread machine before, though, so where to start?  I obviously wanted to do something as simple as possible, and the no-knead bread recipe that (I think) had been printed in the NY Times, oh, a couple of years ago or so seemed like a pretty easy option.  The only thing I had to buy was the yeast, and I bought a little canister of it as opposed to a packet so I can make more than one or two loaves of bread.

This bread is DELICIOUS.  Super crusty on the outside and really soft and almost gummy (but in the good bread way) on the inside.  The only thing that went even remotely wrong was that I way overfloured EVERYTHING, not sure of just how much extra flour I needed.  Um, not that I used too much flour in the bread, just on the counter…the towel…the surface of the bread…you can kind of see.  The problem with too much flour is that, aside from getting everywhere, any extra flour in the bottom of the cooking vessel will burn.  Burnt flour doesn’t smell very good, and will make you worry that you ruined the bread.  It will also burn to the bottom of the bread, creating a blackened crust that can’t really be cut through…you kind of have to break the bottom crust once you cut through the rest of the bread.  Also, it doesn’t taste that awesome…not bad, just clearly a little burned.  So, lesson learned there.

Despite my overzealous flouring, the rest of the bread was not affected and we enjoyed steaming hot slabs of it fresh from the oven (of course buttered).  I still have a ton of it left and plan to have some for breakfast tomorrow…maybe heated slightly with some jam.  It would also go fantastically with a nice chunky winter soup or stew, or as part of a more rustic-themed spread for a cheese-and-wine-type gathering or picnic.  But especially with soup or stew, because something with a crust that shattery needs something yummy to soak up.  Now the leftover minestrone in the freezer is calling to me…not to be eaten now, as it’s 2 in the morning and I’m still full from dinner (recipe coming tomorrow-ish, and is the second part of the pizza-esque aroma).  But maybe tomorrow…oh, but I have that squash I wanted to incorporate into a risotto…hmm.  Eventually.

Anyway, if you’ve never made bread before, I definitely recommend giving this a try.  Pretty much every food blogger already did long before I got to it.  I’m excited to try other yeasty-type recipes in order to get through that whole canister of yeast, but I’m sure I’ll be making this again.  Especially when I know I’ll be making some soup.

No Knead Bread

If you look really closely you can see the fragrant steam rising from the, um, yummylicious bread.

If you look really closely you can see the fragrant steam rising from the, um, yummylicious bread.

3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (you can use AP flour if you must)

1/4 tsp instant yeast

1 1/4 tsp salt (I used fine sea salt)

1 5/8 cups water

Cornmeal, wheat bran, oat bran, etc., for dusting (optional…I just used the flour)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add water and stir until blended – dough will be shaggy and sticky.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place (about 70 degrees) for 12-18 hours (18 is better).  Once the surface of the dough is dotted with little holes, lightly flour a clean work surface and place the dough on it.  Lightly sprinkle the dough with more flour and fold it over itself once or twice, then cover it loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for another 15 minutes.  Liberally coat a clean dish towel (not terrycloth) with your choice of dusting material.  Coat your hands with a light layer of flour (to prevent sticking) and, working quickly, gently form a ball from the dough.  Place the dough seam side down on the cloth, dust with more flour or bran or whatever, then cover with another cloth and let rise for 2 hours.

Half an hour before the dough is ready, place a covered 6-8 quart heavy pot or casserole dish in the oven and turn the oven on to 450.  Once the dough is ready (about doubled in size and no longer springy when you poke it), carefully remove the cooking vessel from the oven and quickly flip the dough into it, seam side up (shake the pan slightly if the dough is really uneven).  Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15-30 minutes, or until the crust is browned.  Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool slightly before devouring.

Not so hard!  I think I might like traditional bread-baking, too, since I like to squish foodstuffs around with my hands.  Kneading could be lots of fun!

Back to the Kitchen

I managed to make something yummy to eat last night!  I think I’m pretty much back to normal, and am now not afraid of yogurt…because it turns out to not have been the yogurt.  Because now Z is sick.  So I guess I caught something somehow…that didn’t have any symptoms at all up until the actual sickness.  Weird.

A big, happy, DELICIOUS family.

A big, happy, DELICIOUS family.

I made some applesauce a few days ago and had planned to make some latkes a few days sooner.  They’d still be a little late for their appointed holiday even if I made them when I made the applesauce.  Oh well!

I followed the so-easy-I’ve-memorized-it-already recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and loved that Deb made them so tiny.  More crispy outsides that way, I think.  I don’t have a cast iron pan (funny story, I almost bought a nice, affordable, pre-seasoned one from the kickass cooking store in Portland, but I had parked a few blocks away and WAS NOT going to carry a pan that heavy all the way up those wacky Old Port streets…maybe this weekend I’ll get back there, though), so I used a regular frying pan and it worked fine.  I also didn’t have peanut oil but canola worked fine.  Since they’re small I was able to do them pretty much in two batches, but you do want to work quickly and just make sure you use someting with a low smoke point.

I also don’t have a food processor (though I reeeally want one), so I didn’t end up with the long strands of potato.  I just used my regular old grater.  Long potato strands are pretty nice, though.  Another thing I didn’t have was cheesecloth.  I used a strainer, and everything still ended up a bit watery…plus I had to pick bits of stringy onion matter out of the edge of the strainer this morning, even after a trip through the dishwasher.  I’ll try a cloth next time.

These are super easy either way, and so tasty that I definitely don’t mind that I missed Hannukah – I’ll make them again well before next winter!  Z wasn’t interested in the concept of latkes at first, not having had them before, but once he saw me pull up the recipe and smelled them cooking he was excited and ate a bunch, then came back for more a couple hours later.  Since these are small, they work great as a sort of hash brown-y breakfast component, and are tasty with ketchup or applesauce.

The applesauce I made is great, if you like spicy applesauce.  It was really an experiment to see how I could use up the five Macintosh apples getting soft in the fruit basket.  The latkes came when I knew I needed something to eat with the applesauce.

And now, the recipes.

Mini Latkes with Spicy Applesauce

The applesauce, though delicious, is ugly, so you can't see it too well.

The applesauce, though delicious, is ugly, so you can't see it too well.

Spicy Applesauce:

5 meidum-sized (slightly old) Macintosh apples, peeled and chopped

1 cinnamon stick, about 3-4″

Scant 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (you could use honey if you can’t get the real stuff)

Scant 1/4 cup water

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced (or more if you really like ginger, like I do)

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Place everything in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Stir to combine, cover and allow to simmer.  After about 10 minutes, gently stir the applesauce and check the consistency of the apples.    If you like your applesauce firm and chunky (which I do!), it’s probably ready at this point.  If you’d like softer apples or plan to puree the chunks using an immersion blender, let it cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Puree to desired consistency if you wish, then cover and set aside while you prepare the latkes.

Mini Latkes:

1 large russet or baking potato (about 1 lb.), peeled

1 small onion, peeled (I used half of a medium one)

1/4 cup flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp salt (I used kosher)

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Canola or peanut oil, for frying

Grate the potato and onion with a box grater, or shred in a food processor.  Place the grated vegetables into a strainer or bundle into some cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid out as you can.  Allow to rest for a couple of minutes while you combine the egg, flour, salt and pepper.  Return to the potato mixture and squeeze again.  Once you have gotten all the moisture out that you can, add it to the egg mixture and stir until all the grated pieces are coated evenly.  Heat a couple Tbsp of oil in a heavy skillet (preferably seasoned cast iron, if you have it) and drop the latke batter in by packed tablespoons, flattening the backs with a wooden spoon.  Depending on the size of your skillet, you should be able to fit about 6 or 7 latkes in at a time…this should make for 2 batches.  Flip them after a couple of minutes (when golden brown on the cooked side).  Allow to cook a couple minutes more, and once golden brown on both sides, remove to a paper towel-lined dish.  Serve with the applesauce, or ketchup if that’s how you roll.

I’m excited to have the leftovers for lunch…after I work off the big bowl of cinnamon-brown sugar-raisin oatmeal I made earlier…and I have to work it off by shovelling.  Yuck.

More Suited to a Summer Meal…

I’ve got some really fun confections I’m planning in the coming week, so I’ll get this one out of the way.  I just finished the leftovers of this for dinner tonight, over soba noodles, though I ate the rest of it with rice.  I think I just prefer noodles to rice these days when it comes to Asian-type dishes.

The snow peas stand out in bright green defiance - go, little pea rebels!

The snow peas stand out in bright green defiance - go, little pea rebels!

I found a big old can of pineapple juice in the cabinet, and pineapples were on sale at the grocery store last weekend, AND I’d been meaning to try to make my own teriyaki sauce.  And this is what happened.  It was good…probably a little too sweet because I didn’t have a ton of soy sauce and wanted to use up more pineapple juice, so the ratios in the recipe I based this off of got a little skewed.  Still, it’s nice to know that you can just adjust for taste by increasing/decreasing the flavors you want.  Oh, and it’s also quite spicy…because I can help but pile in the diced ginger.  Or keep my hands off the cayenne.

While I really loved the amount of flavor that the tofu soaked up in this dish, I think I might try frying the cubes BEFORE marinating if I make this again.  They got a little crumbly in cooking, and crumbled more in the fridge once they were mixed with the vegetables.  I’ll write that into the recipe…

Pineapple chunks might be a little big, but they sure were delicious!

Pineapple chunks might be a little big, but they sure were delicious!

You can make just the marinade, and marinate chicken or whatever in it.  You can also change up the veggies…eat it over rice or noodles…or not over anything…This is why I love stir fry!

Pineapple Teriyaki Tofu with Snow Peas

The tofu looks crispy, but it wasn't...

The tofu looks crispy, but it wasn't...

1/4-1/2 cup pineapple juice

1/4-1/2 cup soy sauce

2 Tbsp dark brown sugar

2 tsp fresh minced ginger, divided

2 tsp fresh minced garlic, divided

1 package super firm tofu, drained well and cut into cubes

1-2 cups fresh pineapple, cubed

1/2 cup snow peas

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Heat some oil in a wok or stir fry pan and fry the tofu, stirring occasionally.  Fry until lightly browned on most sides.  In the meantime, combine the pineapple juice, soy sauce, sugar, and half the ginger and garlic in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the sauce slightly cooked down, allow it to cool, then pour into an airtight container or plastic bag and add the tofu.  Seal and allow to marinate for 24 hours in the fridge.

Once the tofu is done marinating, heat some oil in a wok/stir fry pan and add the remaining ginger and garlic.  Stir fry the peas and pineapple until the peas are bright green and the pineapple is sweet and extra juicy.  Add the tofu, cayenne and a couple large splashes of the remaining marinade, and continue to stir fry utnil the tofu is heated through.  Serve over rice or noodles.

This wasn’t the best recipe for winter, consdering the pineapples aren’t terribly in season now.  I don’t know why they were on sale at the store…Roughly one third of the pineapple I bought was too woody to use, but the bottom was nice and ripe and juicy.  I actually gave the juiciest pieces to Z, and used the ones from the middle for this dish since I knew they’d caramelize slightly and also be soaking in the juice.

What else do I have planned for this week?  Well, I do have some apples that badly need to be made into applesauce…and would like to make some latkes to go along with them, even though I’m about a week late for that.  I also have to start attempting the new Iron Cupcake challenge…and I’d like to try out my creme brulee kit…and then I’ll have some egg whites to use…which will go into my first ever attempt at macarons…if I can resist the temptation to make them into matcha meringues!  And I’ve still got ideas flying around in my head for some cookies…We’ll see!